US opens four new immigration facilities in Florida

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The US Citizenship and Immigration Services is opening four new immigration facilities in South Florida to replace the one that it currently operates.

'The conditions at the old location were just not acceptable any longer,' said Michael Aytes, acting deputy director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. 'The idea is to have a welcoming, comfortable place that demonstrates to our customers how much we value them.'

Visitors will be able to make an appointment, easily travel to the centres by public transport or benefit from free car parking, and wait in comfort before completing all the necessary procedures under one roof.

This is in stark contrast with the current experience which requires visitors to travel further to an unwelcoming, fortress-like building, to pay $10 for parking, to queue for hours and then to go somewhere else for processing.

Three of the new centres have already opened, with the fourth due to open by the end of the year.

They mark the end of a colourful era which saw numerous immigration related protests outside the imposing 79th Street building around which a whole host of related services from lawyers to translators appeared to offer help to the waiting throngs.

But the changes have come at a price to the would be immigrant. Last year the fees for a Green Card application increased from $325 to $905 and those for a citizenship application from $330 to $595. According to Aytes, however the higher fees will enable shorter processing times.

It now takes about 10 months to complete the naturalization process in South Florida and six months for status adjustments. By September of next year, the agency hopes to cut those times to five months and four months, respectively.

"From start to finish, we want to give people easier access and a smoother experience," said Linda Swacina, the agency's Miami and Caribbean district director. "The difference will be dramatic."